George: 'Just letting the game come to me'

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George: 'Just letting the game come to me'

BOSTON Even before the Indiana Pacers learned they would be without Danny Granger for a while, Paul George had his mind made up that he would be "the next big thing" this season.

But the pressure to perform that George was putting on himself coupled with Granger's absence, threw the 6-foot-8 wing in a bit of a funk to start the season.

"Early on, I was trying to force it so much to where now it's coming to me, playing through the team and just building habits preparing for games," George told CSNNE.com. "So now I'm just letting the game come to me which is different from the beginning of the year."

And that difference has been huge for both George and the Pacers who come into tonight's game against the Boston Celtics having won eight of their last 10 games.

"The last month or so, he's playing at an all-star level," said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. "All year he has been one of the best defensive wings in the NBA, and on the offensive end he has really picked up his assertiveness and shot-making."

George's success stems from his versatility that poses matchup problems on a nightly basis.

With his size and length, most shooting guards are too small to guard him while small forwards don't have his level of athleticism or ball-handling skills.

Add it all up and it's clear to see why the absence of Granger hasn't been nearly as painful as the loss of a leading scorer would be to a lot of teams.

"He opens up the floor a lot and gives us a lot of different looks that we can do," said Pacers guard George Hill. "He's something like Danny Granger, but a lot more athletic. So when we do that, it gives us a great opportunity to spread the floor and do multiple things."

Earlier this season, George was named the Eastern Conference player of the week of Dec. 10-16. During that span, the Pacers were 3-0 while George averaged 23.3 points, 7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks in addition to connecting on 47.4 percent of his 3s during that span.

Every breakout season tends to have a turning point of some sort.

For George, that would have been Indiana's loss at Golden State on Dec. 1 when he was scoreless while missing all seven of his shots from the field.

After that, George made it up in his mind that whatever he had been doing on the day of games to prepare, had to be changed.

So for their next game against Chicago, George lifted weights the day of the game in addition to getting up 500 shots before hand.

Indiana won 86-80 and George had a then-season high 34 points. That was followed by a 22-point, 8-rebound game which was followed by a 22-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist night.

George said he rarely lifted on game days and didn't take anything close to 500 shots leading up to tip-off.

"I had this thought in my mind that lifting on game days would make me tired or something," George said. "But I tried it out and I actually felt I was ready; my body just felt great. It wasn't a strain on my body at all."

And as far as the 500 shots, George said, "I never shot 500 shots. I thought that would have gotten me tired as well, shooting 500 shots before a game. But my body just felt relaxed. and when I got on the court, it felt I took those shots so many times that if I shot that shot, it was going to go in."

Having had success at both ends of the floor this season has only fueled George's confidence.

"That's how the all-star's make their mark; being confident and being a floor leader on the floor," George said. "That comes with the territory. You have to make the plays, make the baskets. if you're not ready to make the baskets, you really don't have the confidence to even be on the floor. Confidence goes with everything when you want to be the guy."

And there's little doubt that George believes he is indeed capable of being a go-to player.

But he respects what Granger has done for the franchise, and knows that things will change once Granger, an all-star, returns to the lineup.

"It's in the back of my mind," George admitted. "He's an all-star player and it's really ... I have to keep the mindset the same but know that it's another all-star back in our lineup. I think we'll be able to play great together."

George added, "I think we'll be able to coincide. I got the confidence now to make plays and I think it'll help Danny out. You don't want to help off Danny because he can shoot the ball so well. If my shot attempts and my scoring aren't up, my assists will be up."

And that will bring him even closer to being a first-time all-star at next month's All-Star game in Houston.

George isn't quite ready to announce himself as being on that level just yet.

"Be honest, I only played one good month," he said. "So I still got some time. I think if I continue on this path, I'm playing at an all-star level."

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

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Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

CINCINNATI -- For most of the game, A.J. Green piled up more yards than the entire Miami Dolphins offense in a virtuoso performance. As an encore, he thrilled the crowd by juggling some Florida citrus.

The Bengals receiver followed his disappointing game with a dominating one - 173 yards and a touchdown - and a Cincinnati defense that was inspired by Vontaze Burfict's return clamped down on the Dolphins for a 22-7 victory Thursday night.

The Bengals (2-2) rebounded from a 29-17 home loss to Denver on Sunday with a solid all-around game against a depleted team.

Green led the way, beating the Dolphins (1-3) on every type of route . He was upset with himself after he dropped a pivotal third-down pass and failed to make an impact against the Broncos.

"I hold myself to a very high standard," said Green, who had 10 catches. "I know what I'm capable of. Last week I didn't perform to that level. I had to refocus on a short week."

During the first three quarters, Green had 166 yards on catches while Miami had 152 total yards. The Bengals' season-long problem of stalling out near the goal line forced them to settle for Mike Nugent's season-high five field goals.

Afterward, Green and Andy Dalton appeared on the postgame show, and the receiver entertained the dozens of Bengals fans who stayed around by smoothly juggling three oranges at the interview desk.

"Any time he was one-on-one, he was able to make the play," Dalton said.

The Dolphins were missing four starting offensive linemen, two linebackers, running back Arian Foster and tight end Jordan Cameron. They had one big play - Ryan Tannehill threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills - but couldn't do anything else on offense.

"We've got to get it fixed and quick, and by that I mean Monday," Tannehill said. "We're kind of in a dark spot right now. It's squarely on our shoulders."

The Bengals' defense expected to get a lift from Burfict's return. The volatile linebacker was suspended by the NFL for the first three games because of his illegal hits. He got a loud ovation when he ran onto the field during introductions wearing a baseball cap. Burfict knocked down a pass and had three tackles.

"He's amazing," end Carlos Dunlap said. "Did you see the plays he made? Those aren't plays you can coach. He came off his couch and played great. It's good to have him back."

Mostly, it was Green's show. He caught a 51-yard pass off Dalton's scramble in the first half, and had a 43-yard catch that set up another field goal in the third quarter for a 19-7 lead.

REMEMBERING FERNANDEZ

A large fan banner in the upper deck at Paul Brown Stadium honored Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died with two friends in a boat crash early Sunday near Miami Beach. The banner read: "Jose 16 Heaven's Bright."

STILL CAN'T RUN

The Bengals rushed for 77 yards and only a 2.1-yard average against the second-worst run defense in the league, one missing two starting linebackers.

SLOPPY DOLPHINS

Miami had seven penalties for 68 yards. The most egregious was by Terrence Fede, who pushed Kevin Huber to the ground after he punted in the third quarter. The penalty gave Cincinnati the ball, and the Bengals got a field goal out of it.

INJURIES

Dolphins: LT Branden Albert and C Anthony Steen were inactive with sprained ankles. Also missing were LBs Koa Misi (neck) and Jelani Jenkins (groin). C Mike Pouncey has missed all four games with a hip injury.

Bengals: TE Tyler Eifert was inactive again, contributing to the Bengals' trouble close to the goal line. He's recovering from offseason ankle surgery and returned to practice on a limited basis last week. CB Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive with a hamstring injury suffered Sunday. G Clint Boling sat out most of the fourth quarter with an injured left shoulder.

ANTHEM STATEMENTS

Stills and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas knelt with their hands over their hearts during the anthem.

FANTASY IMPACT

Tannehill was 15 of 25 for 189 yards with a touchdown, an interception, a fumble and five sacks. Dalton was 22 of 31 for 296 yards with a touchdown and a sack.

UP NEXT

The Dolphins begin a stretch of four straight home games against Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets.

The Bengals have a tough two-game stretch, playing Dallas and New England on the road. They're 1-5 in Dallas, dropping their last three. They've dropped their last six at New England, last winning in 1986.